What Typewriter Should I Get?

Since readers know that I type drafts on manual typewriters, I regularly get questions about what typewriter to get. I enjoy manual (mechanical, non-electric/electronic) typewriters, so I decided to write a post on Quora that I decided to post here as well.

If you don’t own a manual typewriter yet, but want to get into writing on typewriters, don’t go for a pre-war machine like this gorgeous 1938 Erika ‘S’:

“Why not? It’s pulling at my heartstrings!”

Yes, I know. That’s why I collect these machines:

And the thing is, they are marvellous typemachines. Ifthey work. These Erikas do, but they’ve been lovingly maintained by someone who knows how to service and repair these machines. If you don’t know how to replace a drawstring or adjust the carriage or unstick sticky typebars or re-align the type, you’d have to outsource the servicing and repairing and that would be a pain in the ass, because there aren’t many typewriter shops anymore. Even the regular use of these machines can be difficult.

For instance, check the spools on the Erika ‘S’. Beautiful open metal spools. If you buy ribbon, it comes on cheap plastic spools and you’d need to re-spool the ribbon onto these spools, because apart from looking ridiculous on these machines, plastic spools are made for modern machines, not these pre-war machines, because they require heavier, more balanced metal spools.

“So, what should I get?”

Get a segment-shift typewriter, made between 1955–1969, from a brand like Royal, Remington, Smith Corona, Erika, Optima, Olympia or Olivetti.


To print capital letters, you need to shift the type to use the upper part of the slug (the print part that hits the paper). Typewriters basically have two ways* of shifting: by lifting the whole moving carriage up (carriage shift) or by lowering the ‘basket’ with the typebars deeper into the machine (segment or basket shift). The latter is way less strenuous on your pinkie fingers, which — if you touch-type — handle the shift keys.

If you don’t have strong type-fingers yet, go for the segment-shifted 1969 Olympia SM9:

Rather than the carriage-shifted 1959 Olympia SM4, especially one with an extra-wide carriage:

Nice mechanical machines for a beginner, while still being appreciated by professional typists, are Olivetti Lettera (portable) or Studio (desktop), Olympia SM9, Erika 10, pre-1970s Brother, Smith-Corona, Royal, and Remington. Most of these brands have been around since before 1955, so pay attention that you get a segment-shifted model.

Don’t buy a typewriter made after 1970. With the introduction of the personal computer, many typewriter factories tried to compete by using cheaper materials and mass-production, so the quality of typewriters, even those made by renowned brands, deteriorated sharply.

*Most pre-war machines, like the Erika 5 and S above, have carriage shift.The Erika on the picture far left is the Modell M and it has a partial carriage shift in the sense that only the platen (the rubber roll with the paper) is lifted, but that’s unusual.

Sample Sunday: Fragment from WIP “Fundamental Error”, a new Katla KillFile in Amsterdam Assassin Series.

This is a fragment from Fundamental Error, the third Katla KillFile in the Amsterdam Assassin Series, soon available on Amazon, Kobo and iTunes. See the ABOUT page.

Assassin Katla is hired by a client whose brother is planning a terrorist attack…

The Fundamental Error KillFile (9,700 words) follows Katla Sieltjes, freelance assassin and corporate troubleshooter, on her most dangerous assignment yet. When Peter Brandt watches his brother Roel convert to Islam and turn into a domestic terrorist, Katla needs to enter into the mind of a fanatic suicide bomber in order to thwart a mass-murder attack in the shopping mecca of Amsterdam.

The Katla KillFile short stories chronologically precede the novels in the Amsterdam Assassin Series. Each KillFile features Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, executing one of her contracts. While not mandatory reading, each KillFile provides insight both in Katla’s work methods and skill, and additional background information in her character and personal history. The KillFiles can be read out of order, as the contracts are random samples from Katla’s past.



Right behind the Royal Palace, at the intersection of Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and Raadhuisstraat, you can find one of the most elegant buildings in Amsterdam, if not the world. Built to serve as the main post office in 1899 by esteemed architect Cornelis Hendrik Peters in Neo-Gothic style—a mixture of Gothic and Romantic elements similar to the Parliament buildings in London—this beautiful building was added in 1992 to the list of Amsterdam’s ten most valuable monuments. That same year, four renowned architects were invited to submit a renovation plan to transform the building into the first covered shopping and lifestyle centre in the heart of the city. With the new destination came a new name: Magna Plaza.

None of the shoppers or security staff paid much attention to the well-dressed Caucasian man strolling inside and standing silently next to the grand piano in the middle of the hall, gazing upward at the glass dome that covered the roof but let in the sunlight. Roel Brandt—known as Muhammad by the brotherhood—was well aware of Magna Plaza’s history. In fact, the venerable building’s glorious past was one of the main reasons for Magna Plaza becoming the target of the brotherhood’s first public display.

Muhammad turned on his heel, looking down the marble ramp of the main entrance.

After nearly a century of serving as the main post office, the building started its second life in 1992 with only minor additions or changes, the most significant to the façades undoubtedly concerned the main entrance. The almost inaccessible entrance of the central post office would’ve made public use of the building as a shopping centre difficult. After numerous studies trying to balance the accessibility with the integrity of the building’s design, the decision was made to bridge the connection between street level and the 1.5 meter higher main level as smoothly as possible inside the building. The new porch above the main entrance reinforced the improved access above the three new entrances.

Muhammad turned back to the interior. Originally, public access to the huge building was restricted to part of the black-and-white tiled lobby, leaving visitors able to just gaze up at the upper floors where only postal workers were allowed to tread. He studied the interior through the viewfinder of the Olympus camera around his neck, careful not to touch the button designed to operate the shutter. The interior parts of the camera had been removed to house the remote detonator, leaving only the lenses and viewfinder intact.

Even after the conversion from post office to shopping mecca, the central hall remained the building’s main feature. New arches were added to the already present gallery bridges to merge the central part of the building into one large open space surrounded by shops. To the rear of the building opposite the main entrance new elevators were installed, as well as escalators that allowed shoppers to rise slowly and feast their eyes on this Valhalla of greed. The basement—cleared of any unimportant partition walls—was adapted structurally where necessary, currently featuring an exhibition of paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn. As a result of these changes, the spaces of the central part connected to form an open triptych, though the new spaces and arcades required structural additions—steel girders masked by prefab concrete covers that fitted in with the existing elements, painstakingly designed to continue the pattern of the existing structure. The new columns and arches—barely recognisable to the average unsuspecting shopper—were glaringly obvious to the man now quietly observing the graceful interior that would soon be turned into rubble and screams.

Muhammad lowered his fake camera, his face a polite mask hiding his disgust. Like the Bijenkorf and Kalvertoren department stores, Magna Plaza was a bastion of capitalism, crowded with people who filled their spiritual void with vapid consumerism. Popular brands like Emporio Armani, Swarovski, Mango, America Today, and Gsus Industries flanked smaller boutiques like Velvet and Sarah Pacini, the enormous shiny plate glass windows displaying their clothes, trinkets, ointments, and multimedia to lure the materialistic morons.

He knew why the brotherhood had chosen him for his current task of bringing down this shining symbol of the perverted Western civilisation. While Roel Brandt had disavowed his name and materialist upbringing—and shown in the camp to be fully prepared to be a martyr for the cause—the blond hair and blue eyes granted by his Dutch heritage allowed him to move effortlessly and without suspicion where his brothers of the faith would be instantly noted. His appearance alone made him valuable beyond the mere possibility of martyrdom through self-sacrifice, not to mention his technical prowess.

So Muhammad had been chosen for a more difficult task.

Despite spiritual guidance and mental cleansing, those who sacrificed themselves for the cause might have doubts before they embraced their martyrdom. Even the strongest believer was still human, still fallible. Any martyr, no matter how well prepared, might have difficulty following the true path and bringing their mission to a satisfactory conclusion. Standing before their God, they might entertain second thoughts, and their flagging determination might need a gentle nudge.

A nudge Muhammad could provide with the remote detonator in his camera.

The phone in his pocket vibrated to signal the imminent arrival of the martyr, so Muhammad went to the escalator, ascending to the first level. Going up another level required walking down the arcade to the next escalator. A deliberate set-up to force customers to pass at least half the shops on a floor to ascend to another level. Probably wouldn’t bother most customers, but Muhammad was disgusted by the manipulative efforts of the capitalist architecture. He looked away from the window displays at the empty space above the lobby as he made his way to the next ascending escalator.

If you enjoyed this fragment of Fundamental Error, check my ‘About’ page for a link to the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

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If you’d like to become a beta reader or reviewer for the Amsterdam Assassin Series, email Martyn V. Halm at katlasieltjes@yahoo.com and put ‘beta reader’ in the subject line. Thanks for your support.